Gustave Courbet (1819-1877)
In 1849 Courbet produced one of his most famous paintings,
. The following year he painted
Burial at Ornans
. Both of these paintings did not follow either the classical or romantic styles accepted by the Royal Academy. In these paintings, Courbet showed peasants in real life settings as opposed to rich people in romantic and glamorized settings. Courbet believed that painting was the representation of things real and existing. He stated "show me an angel and I will paint one". (4) Courbet wanted to show the customs, ideas and look of his time in his paintings. Courbet even boasted that his
Burial at Ornans
was the burial of romanticism. (5)
Courbet became the leader of the realists and painted the very large work
The Painter's Studio, a Real Allegory, Summarizing a Seven-year Phase of My Artistic Life
. It was his intention that this painting be a manifesto of realism. He planned to show this painting at the Exposition Universelle (World's Fair) in Paris, 1855. The jury accepted several of his entries, but not
The Painter's Studio
Burial at Ornans
. When his paintings were rejected, Courbet decided to exhibit them in a building he constructed at his own expense and named The Pavilion of Realism.
Courbet also enjoyed painting landscapes as an accurate reflection of specific scenes from nature. Landscape painting of this type barely existed in France before this time, as the countryside in its natural state was not highly regarded. It was perceived as unorganized and impure. The landscape artist's job had been to organize nature into compositions of perfect proportion. Classical landscape painting was idealized. Courbet's series of seascapes with changing storm clouds influenced impressionist painters. Painters began painting in the woods, fields and along the water.
In March 1871, Courbet was elected to the town council and became a representative of Fine Arts in the revolutionary Paris Commune government. He abolished the school of the Academy and did away with Salon medals. His reforms did not last as the Commune was ended in May. Courbet was imprisoned for his involvement. Although it was never proved, he was suspected of involvement in the destruction of the Vend“me Column, a tribute to Napoleon. Courbet was ordered to pay the cost of its repair and re-erection. As this was not possible, he fled France and escaped to Switzerland where he died in 1877.
Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Monet married his first wife Camille, in June 1870. They spent that summer in Trouville where he produced a series of beach paintings including
On the Beach, Trouville
. Central to Monet was a commitment to paint directly from nature. This type of painting was known as plein-air or open-air painting. His paintings were scenes of leisure, an attractive life at this time enjoyed by tourists and the middle to upper-middle classes. Monet, his wife and son Jean moved to London when Napoleon III declared war on Prussia in 1870. While in London, Monet met the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. When the war ended Monet and his family returned to France and settled in Argenteuil, a small town on the Seine in the outskirts of Paris. Durand-Ruel returned to Paris in 1872 and began to successfully sell Monet's paintings.
In 1874 Monet and several of his friends decided to hold their own exhibition. At this exhibition, Monet showed nine works, including
. The title of this picture led a critic to call the artists "Impressionists". Monet's "impressions" embody the philosophy of nature as ever changing with a need for immediate observation and immediate recording of that particular impression in paint. The Impressionists continued to hold further exhibitions in the following years, but they were not very successful. In 1877, Monet painted a series of studies of Gare Saint-Lazare. This gave a new direction to his work, showing that Impressionist methods could be applied to urban subjects. Through the paintings of Gare Saint-Lazare Monet united the modern industrial forces of the time with his emphasis on painting light effects through his treatment of the steam and vapor evident in the station.
Monet moved to a house in Giverny in 1883. He wrote to Durand-Ruel that here he would "produce masterpieces because the countryside here pleases me very much". (6) Monet continued his study of the effects of light with series of paintings of the same subject in different light conditions. In 1891 he showed, with great success, fifteen of his
series at the Durand-Ruel Gallery. He then painted his series called
. In 1892 Monet went to Rouen and did a series of paintings of the cathedral. His purpose was to show the play of light on the intricate stonework at different times of day. Monet used short, broken brushstrokes to capture his impressions. He tried to reduce all he visualized and painted into terms of pure light. He focused on developing the ability to see light and nothing else. In 1899 he painted a series of the footbridge over the pond and water lilies at his home in Giverny, indicating his continued interest in the reflections of light on water.
In 1911 Monet's second wife Alice, whom he had married in 1891, died leaving him distraught and withdrawn for many months. In 1914 his son Jean died and subsequently Monet rarely left Giverny. An old friend, Georges Clemenceau, became Prime Minister in 1918. He was able to persuade Monet to work on a series of very large water lily paintings. It was this project that dominated his work for the remainder of his life. Monet died at the age of 86, in December 1926, with Clemenceau at his side.
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)
In 1860, Cassatt entered the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where she studied for two years. In 1866 she decided to go to Paris to become a professional artist. Her mother accompanied her to be sure that she was properly settled in the apartment of a quiet family that rented out rooms. Cassatt obtained permission to copy paintings at the Louvre museum, attended a class by Charles Chaplin, and took lessons with Jean-Léon Gér“me, an artist who taught at the École de Beaux-Arts. She was unable to take classes herself at the École as it was closed to women.
At her parents' insistence, Cassatt returned to America when Napoleon III declared war on Prussia. She was anxious to return to Europe and was offered a commission from a bishop in Pittsburgh to copy two religious paintings in Italy. Cassatt enjoyed the opportunity to study paintings of the old masters. She began to be more spontaneous in her painting and to use brighter colors.
In 1875 one of Cassatt's paintings,
The Young Bride
, was rejected by the Salon, only to be accepted the following year after she had repainted it with a darker and more somber background. This prompted Cassatt to decide that she would no longer compromise her painting and would no longer sacrifice originality. She began to be more spontaneous in her painting and to use brighter colors. In 1877 Degas came to meet her at her studio. He was impressed with her work and invited her to exhibit with the Impressionists. Cassatt said later: "I accepted with joy, I hated conventional art. I began to live."(7) Her introduction to Degas was the beginning of a major creative outburst of work. She felt independent and incorporated more of the Impressionists' ideas into her paintings. When the next Impressionist exhibition opened in 1879, Cassatt displayed eleven paintings. She and Degas continued their friendship for forty years.
Degas clashed with the other Impressionists as they prepared for their exhibit in 1882. When the seventh Impressionist exhibit was held neither Cassatt nor Degas was represented. In 1886 the Impressionists agreed to have their eighth exhibition. Few of the original Impressionists participated, but Cassatt contributed seven paintings. This turned out to be the last Impressionist exhibition. On her own, in 1889, she began to focus on the theme of mother and child. The happy children always seem secure and loved by their mothers. These paintings were very successful.
Mary Cassatt died in 1926 at the age of eighty-two. She lived long enough to see her art finally gain as high a standing in America as it had in France.
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
Van Gogh suffered a depression in 1879 after which he left his religious pursuits and instead began to paint miners. At this point his brother Theo began to support him financially, a situation which lasted for the rest of Van Gogh's life. He took some formal art studies in Brussels, then went to France to visit Theo. Van Gogh met the painter Anton Mauve who introduced him to watercolors and occasionally tutored him. In 1882 he began to experiment with oil paints and in 1885, after the death of his father, Van Gogh produced
The Potato Eaters
. He also expanded his painting to include a greater variety of colors and became very interested in Japanese woodcuts.
He returned again to formal training in 1886 at the École des Beaux-Arts but rejected many of their principles and soon withdrew. Later in the year he went to the Antwerp Academy and was put in a beginner's class. Again, he withdrew. Through subsequent studies with F. A. Piestre Cormon in Paris he was introduced to Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, who was another student. Also in 1886 Theo introduced him to the work of the Impressionists which had an influence on Van Gogh's use of color. The artist Camille Pissarro also encouraged him to exchange his dark, gloomy colors for a brighter palette. He began a turbulent friendship with the artist Paul Gauguin and continued to work in Paris, frequenting cafés and experimenting with different styles.
Van Gogh moved to Arles in the south of France in 1888. He rented a house and began an extremely productive period including seaside landscapes, portraits and the Sunflower series. His paintings project his own sensations and emotions and become even more Expressionist in nature. Van Gogh's paintings show that "the Expressionist opens his heart and soul and releases his deepest feelings through images intended to embrace the observer…"(8) He invited Gauguin to visit him in Arles during which time they had a violent quarrel and Van Gogh attacked Gauguin. He then cut off part of his own left ear. This began a series of intermittent hospital stays leading to his placement into an asylum at Saint-Rémy until May 1889. While at the asylum, when his health permitted, Van Gogh continued to paint. In was during his time at Saint-Rémy that his work finally began to be recognized by the art community. The Salon des Indépendents exhibited his
Starry Night over the Rhone and Irises
In 1890 while under the care of Dr. Gachet, Van Gogh's health improved dramatically. He spent time with Theo and his wife and their baby. Although Vincent's health improved, his brother's worsened. Van Gogh appears to have regarded himself as a burden to Theo and his family and shot himself on July 27th. He died on July 29th, 1890 in his brother's arms.